Greek professors a force to be reckoned with in US academia

Greek professors a force to be reckoned with in US academia

A growing number of figures among the academic community’s elite in the United States received their undergraduate degrees in Greece, which, proportionally speaking, ranks second in the world in terms of the number of academics it has exported to top American universities. It is outranked only by Israel, which has a particularly strong presence in the areas of research and technology.

The finding comes from a study conducted by Tolga Yuret, an associate professor of economics at the Technical University of Istanbul, who collected information about where 14,310 professors at 48 top American universities obtained their degrees. According to the study, published in the Journal of Informetrics, in proportion to its population, Greece as a country ranks second only to Israel in terms of the academics it has exported to the US.

Yuret found that 149 Greek academics work at the 48 American universities that were studied, comprising a ratio of 13.6 per million of the Greek population. Israel came first with 24.22 professors per million of its population and Canada third with 10.75 per million (382 academics).

Based on the above calculation, Greece ranks first among the European countries included in the study, which include the UK, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Spain, Portugal and others.

What is even more striking about the study’s findings is that Greece also ranks very high in terms of absolute numbers, coming ninth with 149 academics. India is in first place with 604 academics at the top 48 US universities, followed by China with 515 and the UK with 470. Next is Canada, then Russia, Germany, Israel and Taiwan, with Italy trailing Greece in 10th place.

“I firmly believe that tertiary education in Greece is extremely high-caliber and aims not just at amply educating students at every level but is also clearly geared toward the production of science via basic and applied research in a broad spectrum of fields,” Thanos Dimopoulos, a medical professor and the rector at Athens University, told Kathimerini in regard to the study.

Dimopoulos went on to point out that, bearing in mind the 16 academic fields of study and 45 countries examined for the study, more professors at the US institutions had degrees from a Greek university than from South America, the African continent and even Australia and New Zealand together. Greece also excels in comparison to European countries with similar economic and social characteristics, producing, for instance, eight times more academics than Portugal.

“This very interesting study shows that more than 1 percent of regular professors at the top American universities are Greeks who got their degrees in Greece,” said John P.A. Ioannidis, professor of medicine at Stanford University. “That would have been above 2 percent if it included Greeks born in Greece who were educated abroad, as well as second-generation Greeks. The study also does not include the areas of medicine and biology, where the Greek presence is even stronger.”

Ioannidis stressed that the areas in which Greeks tend to excel worldwide are in cutting-edge technologies needed for sustainable development.

“The comparison with Israel, which is the only country that rivals us in terms of the relative export of top scientists to the US, is interesting. The percentage of gross domestic product invested in research and technology is almost five time higher in Israel than it is in Greece, and the investment is much fairer and more strategic. Israel has four universities among the world’s top 100, while in Greece rectors celebrate if their university makes it in the top 500,” added Ioannidis.

“The professors in the study graduated in Greece mainly between 1970 and 2000. I’m afraid that we may not see the same performance among graduates from the past decade or so. For example, Greece has produced very few studies that have had a wide impact in the past few years. Not a single paper from Greece made it into the top 750 cited papers, according to data from the Scopus database for 2015 through September 2017,” he said.

The presence of so many Greek academics at top-flight American universities is proof that there are pockets of excellence in this country. However, Ioannidis stressed, “this huge pool of leading academics is largely cut off from Greece. They run into serious obstacles whenever they try to contribute to the country. I don’t know whether we should be pleased at having so many wonderful scientists or sad at having chased them away.”

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